Sunday, September 27, 2015

Celebrate the Freedom to Read

Did you know it's Banned Books Week?

According to the American Library Association, here is a listing of ten classic books that are subject to being banned in American schools.  How many have you read?

1. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

2. The Catcher in the Rye

3. To Kill a Mockingbird

4. Bridge to Terabithia

5. The Lord of the Flies

6. Of Mice and Men

7. The Color Purple

8. Harry Potter Series

9. Slaughterhouse Five

10. The Bluest Eye

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Happy International Literacy Day!!

Tuesday, September 8th is International Literacy Day!

International Literacy Day celebrates reading and writing around the globe, while raising awareness to those without access to books or education.  Show the world the importance of International Literacy Day by raising awareness or just picking up a book.

In honor of this special day, I am paying homage to the short story, one of my favorite genres to teach.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

I love teaching the short story to my seventh graders.  We read YA classics in their literature anthology, like Langston Hughes’s “Thank You, M’am” and “Charles” by Shirley Jackson.  Of course the culminating highlight is Edgar Allan Poe’s riveting “The Tell Tale Heart.”  My students’ faces at the end of the story are priceless, and the impending class discussion goes something like this:

            “You mean the psycho guy buries the old dude alive?”
            “You mean the heart the he hears is his own?”
            “That’s tight, Ms. Dana!”
            “Sure is.  They don’t credit Edgar Allan Poe with Master of the Detective Story for nothing.  And did you know he married and fell in love with his thirteen year old cousin?”

Never a dull moment when Poe is on the agenda…

As a genre, my students prefer short stories over poetry and the novel.  They appreciate the brevity and are bowled over by the dramatic denouement present in so many.  What I love is their exposure to unique voices, profound characters, and universal themes – all in one class period!

If you have forgotten the thrill of the short story, are between novels, or just in a reading funk – check out or revisit these delightful tales:

“Roman Fever” – Edith Wharton
“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” – Ernest Hemingway
“The Necklace” – Guy de Maupassant
“Lamb to the Slaughter” – Roald Dahl
“The Dinner Party” – Mona Gardner
“The Tell-Tale Heart” – Edgar Allan Poe
“The Lottery” – Shirley Jackson
“The Monkey’s Paw” – W. W. Jacobs
“Bernice Bobs Her Hair” – F. Scott Fitzgerald
“The Gift of the Magi” – O. Henry


Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Parent's Guide for Surviving Middle School

Back to school is right around the corner.  Only this time your child is entering middle school – that rite of passage where they will undergo academic, social, and developmental challenges like never before.  While your eager middle schooler is raring to go, you may be secretly asking yourself if you’re truly ready for this auspicious journey.  The answer is Yes!  With today’s challenges, middle school may seem like the new high school, but below are six tips on how to make the transition seamless for both you and your child.  Get your brave on and learn how to survive (and thrive) as a parent of a middle schooler…

6 Steps to Swinging Into Middle School With Ease

Prepare:  Middle school isn’t exactly The Hunger Games – but you will fare much better if you know the rules.  Procure a copy of the school’s handbook and read it, ideally with your child.  Be familiar with the school’s policies.  For instance, does the school have a dress code?  Is there a general class supplies list?  What is the protocol for absences, medications, cell phone usage, etc.?  Make sure to complete all emergency card information with several contacts and up-to-date phone numbers for easy communication.    

Volunteer:  Join the PTA, PTO, or Booster Club.  Introduce yourself to the principal, counselor, and teachers letting them know you are available to assist wherever needed.
With school funding at a premium, some ways parents can help are volunteering in the computer lab, chaperoning field trips, selling concessions, leading a book club, or supervising dances.  If working with students one-on-one, be sure to check the district’s policy on parent volunteer fingerprinting and/or background checks.

Be a Study Buddy:  Check homework once a week or more if your child is struggling. Designate a study time and place free of distractions with adequate supplies, including pencils, paper, dictionary, and calculator.  Calendar long-term projects, and be available for assistance or hire a tutor if needed.  Many schools offer free after-the-bell tutoring programs or intervention services.  Encourage and teach time management and organization skills – before social networking, cell phone, and television time.

Communicate:  In elementary school, teachers call home if there is an academic issue, but in middle school the report card is often a parent’s first notification that their child is struggling.  To avoid Report Card Shock Syndrome and address problems early on, attend Back-to-School Night and all parent/teacher conferences.  Introduce yourself to your child’s teachers, provide email contact information, and let them know you want to work as a team.  In middle school, each teacher has their own way of posting homework, grading, and communicating with parents.  Ask for a copy of the class syllabus. Communication is key to your child’s success.

Get Social:  Your child’s circle of friends will most likely be at the top of their priority list. This is a good time to rally your own parental BFF’s, if nothing else for moral support.  In short, get to know the parents of your child’s friends.  Arrange a lunch to establish common norms for sleepovers, social networking, etc.  Discuss bullying and implementing appropriate safety precautions.  Talk over the school’s vision and what you can do as parents to make it the best place it can be.

Be a Cheerleader:  As your child enters middle school, he or she will tackle academic, social, and peer related issues.  There will be laughter and there will be tears.  Let your child know that you are their greatest fan and support.  Encourage their strengths and interests with extracurricular activities such as clubs, sports, band, and foreign language. When a problem arises, be there to help but also just to listen.  At the end of the day, sometimes a tween just needs a sympathetic ear.  Middle school is a challenge, but never let your child forget that you are their ultimate BFF and secret cheerleader.

This nostalgic read is both fun and informative in its perspective of middle school existence. The author's use of tweenie vernacular adds to character development and theme relevance.  - Readers Favorite

(Dana) knows her audience well, and has pitched this book to them perfectly, packing useful information into a fun, frothy read....Any sixth grade girl who's facing middle school as if it were a firing squad will find great comfort here.  Both entertaining and useful, How to Survive is a winner.  Starred Review - BlueInk Review 

Lucy and CeCee's guide to middle-school survival is a fast-paced, funny, and insightful book that will serve to clarify typical teen lingo and behavior for adults and give guidelines to tween and teenage kids who are having trouble navigating the middle-school milieu. - Clarion Reviews

But while the girls' teachings are often amusing, what really makes Dana's book exceptional are the girls themselves....Lucy and CeCee's target audience may consist solely of tweens, but this is a book that can educate readers of any age. - Kirkus Reviews

With plenty of humor and adventure, "Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School" is a strongly recommended addition to young adult fiction collections, not to be missed.  - Midwest Book Review

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Join Me at the Local Author Book Fair

Join me at the Brentwood Library's Local Author Book Fair on Sunday, August 23rd from 1-5 p.m where I will be a guest speaker.  A fun and free event for families!

The Brentwood Library 
8109 Concord Rd
Nashville, TN 37027

Friday, July 31, 2015

Lucy and CeCee Snags Paris Book Festival Award

Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive and Thrive snagged the Paris Book Festival Award just in time for Back to School!

An Excerpt From the Award-Winning Tell-All
Lucy and CeCee's How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School 

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
(official definition) – a person who teaches, esp. in a school; an adult role model who indoctrinates the younger generation intellectually, morally, and socially; one who helps others learn, as by example.

teach• er |ˈtē ch ər|
(middle school student’s definition) – an adultish type person who slugs coffee, wears bad ties, frumpish jumpers, and who decided (due to his/her  own scarred teenage existence) to torture kids by inducing parental groundings through frequent phone calls home to report defective grades and deplorable behavior. Resulting outcome: avoid and ignore efforts; torture whenever possible.

Okay, J.K.!!  Teachers should be respected.  After all, most educators enjoy working with kids and some actually have something to teach us.  They are a guiding force in the molding of us adolescents and essentially our guardians from 8 to 3, Monday through Friday.  However, there ARE exceptions.  And the thing about middle school is you will have several teachers to deal with – not just one like in elementary school.  However, baring a few things in mind, you should adapt just fine.  

The first thing to realize about middle school teachers is there are certain types.  Nice and mean, right?  Actually it’s more complicated than that.  There are as many teacher types as there are personalities.  There are teachers who are nice, friendly, lenient, strict, dumb, smart, scary smart, funny, so-funny-they-should-be-a-comic-funny, boring, so-boring-they-put-you-in-a-coma-boring etc.  We’re going to focus on three basic types you will certainly come across in middle school, the telltale identifiable signs, and tips on how to deal with them to your advantage.

The Taskmaster Control Freak/You-Ain’t-Doin’-Nothin’-in-My-Class/Lecturer
These types of teachers became teachers so they could hear themselves talk. The truth is that they have no interest in you or what you have to say. You’ll know them by the classroom arrangement, which consists of unyielding vertical rows with their bully pulpit lectern front and center. Don’t even think about asking to use the bathroom or going to your locker, as the hall pass is simply an accessory for the Taskmaster (i.e., not to be used). And, don’t get sick in their classrooms because you ain’t leaving! Their stock answer for everything is “No!” They have no sense of humor and no sense of mercy. We advise lying low in their classes, as their tolerance for any kind of adolescent shenanigans is nonexistent. Hand in your homework on time and keep a low profile. Cheating, passing notes, and otherwise acting up are unheard of in the Taskmaster’s classroom.

The Fossil/I-Had-Your-Grandmother-and-Will-Have-Your-
Children’s-Children-and-Never-Ever-Retire Teacher
The Fossil tends to linger in the math and science departments. They are well known throughout the local community—and for good reason. They’ve been around forever, and as a result, they have built a solid reputation. They’ve been around so long that their “Just Say No” antidrug posters from the ’80s have an inch of dust caked to them. They use the same old lesson plans, projects, and activities they’ve had since college. Basically, they do their jobs on cruise control and aren’t apt to press the accelerator anytime soon.

Mr./Ms. Good Time/I-Want-to-Be-Liked Teacher
Mr. and Ms. Good Time are usually young and fresh out of college, and their entire educational philosophy is based on being liked. These teachers tend to be easy graders and give less homework (with the exception of a deep fondness for projects) than the others. Their strength is creativity and working outside the textbook (think complete opposite of the Taskmaster). The best thing to do in Mr. and Ms. Good Time’s class is to get them off topic by asking some real-world questions. Also, convince them that a once-a-week party is academically beneficial and aligns perfectly with the standards. Other things to try are having them take you outside, watching teen angst movies, and throwing Game Day because it promotes personal development and self-esteem.

So good luck as you start middle school.  We know you will get "a handle" on those teacher types soon enough, but this should give you the jumpstart needed as you head to that first class.

Until next time...Hearts and Sharpies!
Lucy and CeCee

Saturday, July 18, 2015

How Well Do You Know To Kill a Mockingbird?

With this week's much talked about release of Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, I couldn't help but think back on the effect To Kill a Mockingbird had on me as an eighth grader.  Its message still resonates with readers today as it imparts a powerful lesson: empathy.

Scout learns how to empathize with people who are different than her, many of whom are symbolic mockingbirds shunned by society, including Walter Cunningham, Boo Radley, Mayella Ewell, and Tom Robinson.  As Atticus explains to Scout, "“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view... Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

I haven't taught To Kill a Mockingbird for several years, but I picked up a copy this weekend and started to read it.  I was of course transfixed and before I knew it, created several projects and activities for my future students.

So when was the last time you read To Kill a Mockingbird?  How well do you remember the book?  Take the quiz below to find out:

To Kill a Mockingbird Recall Quiz

1) What is Dill’s real name?
(A) Jack Harris
(B) William Peter Harris
(C) Charles Baker Harris
(D) Truman Harris

2) What does Jem use to try to deliver a message to Boo Radley?
(A) A fishing pole
(B) A rock
(C) A paper airplane
(D) A slingshot

3) What does Scout dress up as for the Halloween pageant?  
(A) An eggplant
(B) A ham
(C) A werewolf
(D) A mouse

4) The story takes place in 
(A) Atlanta, Georgia
(B) Maycomb, Alabama
(C) Nashville, Tennessee
(D) Maycomb, Georgia

5) What is the name of the mad dog?  
(A) Heck Tate
(B) Tom Johnson
(C) Tim Johnson
(D) Dolphus Raymond

6) Tom Robinson's wife is named
(A) Hannah
(B) Mayella
(C) Maudie
(D) Helen

7) During the trial, Atticus proves - 
(A) Tom Robinson wasn’t even in town the night of Mayella’s alleged rape.
(B) Mayella Ewell is a perpetual liar and needs psychologcial help. 
(C) Tom Robinson is left-handed and therefore, guilty.  
(D) Mayella Ewell was most likely beaten up by a left-handed man.  

8) During the trial, what makes Mayella think Atticus is making fun of her?  
(A) He shakes her hand.
(B) He calls her Miss Mayella.
(C) He sneers when she tells her story.
(D) He laughs at what she’s wearing. 

9) What does Atticus read to Scout the night of Bob Ewell’s attack?
(A) The Bible
(B) The Gray Ghost
(C) The Maycomb Tribune
(D) Robinson Crusoe

10) How does the Sheriff contend Bob Ewell died?  
(A) Heart attack
(B) Boo Radley stabbed him.
(C) Jem Finch stabbed him.
(D) He fell on his own knife.

1) C,  2) A,  3) B,  4) B,  5) C,  6) D,  7) D,  8) B,  9) B,  10) D

"[Courage] is when you know you're licked before you begin but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what."  Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

For more TKAM classroom activities and reading support materials, please visit my store at:

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Hype About Skype

Should one believe the hype about Skype?  Absolutely, yes!

My most recent Skype author visit was with the phenomenal fourth grade students from Schwarzkopf Elementary School in Lutz, Florida.  While nothing can replace a personal visitation, Skype allowed for an efficient, rewarding experience, bringing the students and me together in a personal and entertaining format.  The precocious tweens had prepared questions in advance and having read Lucy and CeCee’s How to Survive (and Thrive) in Middle School, they were eager to discuss the book and writing process in general.  In short, it was a glorious morning!

So for us non-techy types, what exactly is Skype?  Skype is an Internet telephone service that allows one to connect with others by video, telephone, or voice messaging.  Once you download the Skype software, setting up an account is relatively easy, and utilizing basic services such as video calls is free, which is economical for schools that are often challenged with limited budgets.

Some Skype Author Tips I share with librarians and teachers to help the presentation go smoothly as possible and maximize our time together include the following:

Download Skype and open an account if your school doesn’t have one already.  (Contact your technology coordinator to make sure you can use the software. Some districts block programs like Skype, and if that’s the case, you’ll want to see if it’s possible to unblock it for your program). Test it out at school to make sure it works.

Contact the author to arrange your virtual visit. Set a date and time and decide which videoconferencing program you’ll use and who will initiate the call.

Plan the presentation. How long will it last?  Will students gather around a computer or will the author be projected on a big screen?  Where will kids stand or sit so they can be seen and heard?  Have kids write questions on index cards in advance to keep the discussion moving.

The day before, set up a “trial call” with the author to make sure everything is working on both ends.

Make sure the kids understand that your connection may be lost temporarily during the chat. It helps to have a plan in place for when that happens.

On the day of the presentation during Q and A, if the kids seem reticent, you might start things off with a question or two to prompt discussion.

If your connection is lost, don’t panic. Just call the author back. It may take a few tries before you establish a good connection.

Keep an eye on the clock, and let students know when it’s almost time to wrap up the discussion.

Skype author presentations are a win-win for both authors and schools, who most certainly will integrate them into prevailing Blended Learning curriculum and digital instruction.  They are a time saver for busy authors and a money saver for schools.  Most importantly, Skype author presentations provide an opportunity for an interactive connection among the literary troika of author, student, and text.  Online, interactive school visits are the wave of the future as students, authors, and educators can dialog about the joy of expressing oneself through the written word.

Happy Skyping!

You can use the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators Speakers Bureau to find authors who Skype at

Thirty Sample Student Questions to Ask Authors During Skype Interviews

1. When did you first start writing?

2. What is the hardest part about writing a book?

3. How do you know when a book is finished?

4. How do you keep track of the different characters, events, and places?

5. What time of day do you do your best/ most productive writing?

6. What do you do with random ideas that pop into your head when you can't write them down?

7. What inspired your first book?

8. Do you map out the entire plot? Or just write as it comes to you?

9. What do you do when you get stuck or experience writer’s block?

10. What are your tips/ secrets about writing for any up and coming author who may need help/ encouragement?

11. When you are not writing, what do you like to do for fun?

12. What books do you enjoy reading? (favorite genre, author, book, etc.)

13. How long does it take you to write a book?

14. What is your work schedule like when you're writing?

15. How do books get published?

16. Do you edit or proofread your own books?

17. How do you research information or ideas for your books?

18.  What does your family (parents, spouse, kids) think of your writing?

19.  How many books have you written? Which is your favorite?

20.  Do you have a favorite character?  Which character would be your best friend?

21.  Do you hear from your readers much? What kinds of things do they say?

22.  Are people ever critical of your books?  How does it make you feel?

23.  What audience do you write for?

24.  What do you think makes a good story?

25.  How did you come up with the title?

26.  Is there an overall message or theme in your books that you want readers to grasp?

27.  How much of the book is based on real life or someone you know?

28.  What books or authors have most influenced your writing?

29.  What are your current writing projects?

30.  Who designed the cover(s) of your book(s)?

For more information on Skype Author presentations, please visit my website: